Millennium Elephant Foundation (MEF) is dedicated to improving the welfare of domestic elephants throughout Sri Lanka. MEF was started in 1999 in memory of Sam Samrasinghe. The foundation is situated on a 15-acre estate, which is located 10 km (6.2 mi) northwest of Kegalle, within the Sabaragamuwa Province of Sri Lanka. As of 2014 there are 9 elephants that either permanently or temporarily reside at the sanctuary. These elephants are taken care of by 13 local mahouts and a number of foreign volunteers. A positive and productive working relationship is sought between each elephant and its mahout from the moment the elephant arrives at the sanctuary. Every elephant has a night bed at which it is fed in the evening and tied throughout the night. In the morning, each elephant is bathed in the river and fed its breakfast in a day bed. The food, which is delivered daily from off the premises, consists of coconut, kitul, and jackfruit bundles. Each elephant’s daily consumption is counted and recorded to ensure that proper care and protocols are met.
Continuous efforts are made to ensure that each elephant’s day and night beds are kept clean and proper health standards upheld. A daily veterinary check is carried out on each elephant which involves a foot sweep to check for foot rot, and the feeding of a vitamin dough ball containing all the vitamins and supplements each elephant requires. This process helps detect any medical concerns early, and if further medical attention is required. In the afternoons, the elephants take part in enrichment activities. At this time, the elephants are taken to an open area where they have the chance to search for hidden baskets of fruit and roam around on their own. This provides a period of relaxation and play for the elephants, and allows them to socialize and develop relationships with each other.
The mahouts at MEF are comfortable with and knowledgeable in traditional methods of elephant training which involve the use of pressure points known as nila points and the ankus. The ankus is used to apply strong, clear pressure in very particular points that the elephant is trained to react to. When used correctly, the ankus does not cause the elephant any pain. However, MEF is developing a mahout training program meant to shift elephant training in Sri Lanka towards methodology based on positive reinforcement. The reinforcing stimulus used with elephants is a treat awarded after the elephant has successfully completed a verbal command given by the mahout.
The volunteer program at MEF plays a big role in running the sanctuary. International volunteers contribute to the daily tasks involved in caring for the elephants and help to continue developing MEF as charity organization. Each volunteer works with one elephant and its mahout(s) for the duration of his or her stay. Volunteers help care for their elephants by keeping track of their feeding patterns, preparing the elephant vitamin balls, completing a daily veterinary check, washing their elephant, cleaning the elephant beds, and various other tasks. The gardens at MEF, which grow food and medicinal herbs for the elephants and people living on the estate, are also maintained by the volunteers. Volunteers are also involved with various projects that help manage the sanctuary grounds, raise funds, and create awareness about the state of both captive and wild elephants in Sri Lanka. Outside the sanctuary, volunteers get involved in the local community by teaching English to both children and adults year-round. Since its inception, MEF has cared for more than 80 elephants.